One of the main reasons I’ve kept my politics under wraps (stating my views if confronted directly, but not engaging in heated political debate otherwise), is because I’ve been worried that it would affect me professionally. In my neck of the woods, most of my potential clients had Obama bumper stickers on their cars and sang hosannas upon his election. All of them are very nice people (I wouldn’t work for them otherwise), but I’ve never trusted any of them enough to risk letting them know that I disagree with their political outlook. I kept telling myself I was cowardly or paranoid, but then I’d look at the money they paid me, money that helps pay our expenses and fill our retirement accounts, and I’d figure a little paranoia and cowardice wasn’t so bad.
It turns out that my instincts might have been right. Although I’m sure it wasn’t my clients who wrote to the New York Times‘ ethicist, it could have been. It turns out that some lawyers are thinking that it’s okay to discriminate against conservatives, just as one might once have discriminated against blacks or Irish or Jews (h/t Above the Law):
While interviewing law students for jobs as paid summer interns and full-time associates for my firm, I noticed several had résumés listing their activities in the Federalist Society. Some of my partners have conservative views similar to those of the society, but I do not. These students’ politics would not affect their professional function, but my review is meant to consider their judgment and personality (though I don’t need to give reasons for the assessments given). May I recommend not hiring someone solely because of his or her politics? NAME WITHHELD, GREENWICH, CONN.
The Federalist Society incidentally, the one that gets this lawyer’s knickers in a twist, is not made up of rabid, Bible-spouting, gun-toting, racist, homophobics. Instead, it is a highly intellectual legal organization dedicated to preserving the Constitution within the context of the legal profession.
To his credit, Randy Cohen, the Times’ resident ethicist, was horrified by the idea (although he still manages to take a swipe at the Bush administration):
You may not. If candidates can do the job, bathe regularly and work well with others, you should hire them. As you note, their “politics do not affect their function.” Is it your position that only people who share your politics should be allowed to make a living? It was odious when membership in the Federalist Society was all but required for some jobs in the Justice Department; it is no more appealing to make that affiliation a bar to employment at your firm.
What’s fascinating about the above interchange is that the lawyer, having written to the ethicist to seek his guidance, promptly ignored the guidance sought:
Believing that all the applicants were qualified, but able to hire only a few, this person recommended rejecting each member of the Federalist Society.
It’s exchanges such as the one above that confirm with me that I haven’t been paranoid. Liberal lawyers are just as prone to discriminatory practices as are universities. Speaking of which, I heard from a parent that his child had to go through a more rigorous admissions process at a major university because of his conservative politics — and, unsurprisingly, that same university couldn’t bring itself to say yes. What was amazing was that there was nothing subtle about this. They viewed this sterling young person with the same suspicion that you or I might give to a child raised in a terrorist enclave.
I was raised as a liberal. I know liberal thinking: conservatives are evil. And really, if you had a law firm to run, would you want evil people working for you? It’s hard enough to be lawyer without worrying about the devil in the office next to yours.
Incidentally, I don’t have a problem with firms making such decisions. If they want to shut out the best and brightest legal minds, the market will eventually turn on these firms. I do have a problem, however, when publicly funded universities and colleges, or publicly funded radio and TV stations, engage in the same discriminatory practices. If you’re going to relieve me of my money through the brute force of government, you better pay lip service to my views.